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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Officials move to lure coal-processing plant to area

Lucas County commissioners put out the first official, on-the-record welcome mat yesterday for a proposed $200 million to $250 million coal-processing plant on the Maumee River.

Commissioners also moved another step toward a new county jail and approved a pact with a FirstEnergy subsidiary that officials said will trim consumers electric bills.

During its regular meeting yesterday, the board by a 3-0 vote directed the county s economic development department to negotiate a loan with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority of up to $500,000.

The funds would help prepare a parcel between Otter Creek Road and the Maumee as a home to a new plant that would turn coal into coke, a key ingredient in steel production.

Two other, undisclosed sites are being considered - one in the Midwest and the other in the East.

Investors most likely won t make a final decision on where the plant will be located for several months, said Brad Leon, a spokesman with Hart Associates, a local public relations firm that is handling questions for the investors.

But Frank Stella, a Detroit businessman and chairman of the investors group, was “very excited” about yesterday s vote, calling it a “tremendous step forward in the process of selecting a location,” Mr. Leon said.

A final loan agreement still would have to be approved by both the port authority s board of directors and the county commissioners.

Commissioners also approved by a 3-0 vote a two-year pact with FirstEnergy Solutions, Inc., to provide electricity to about 144,000 consumers in the area, but outside Toledo s city limits.

Since the deregulation of the industry in 2001, Lucas County has been part of the Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition, a group that includes Sylvania, Maumee, Holland, Perrysburg, Northwood, Oregon, Waterville, and the unincorporated areas of Lucas County.

The group can “shop around” to find the best electric rates, and last month it rejected an offer from a Green Bay, Wis., company that would have provided power for 4.58 cents per kilowatt-hour.

FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, will provide the power for fewer than 4.36 cents a kilowatt-hour, said Lance Keiffer, an assistant county prosecutor who has been advising the coalition.

The rate essentially saves residents $45 to $60 a year compared to traditional or “full tariff” rates by FirstEnergy, which until deregulation had a monopoly on the area s power, Mr. Keiffer said.

A postcard to consumers explaining the new rates, effective Jan. 1, will be mailed next week. Customers can opt for the traditional FirstEnergy plan by returning the card, Mr. Keiffer said.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak applauded the new rates, but noted that “the rates still aren t as low as we d like them to be.”

Mr. Keiffer nodded. “It s an eternal struggle against FirstEnergy,” he said.

Commissioners also approved a contract of up to $232,500 for Poggemeyer Design Group to study a new county jail.

Commissioner Wozniak suggested that the Bowling Green-based consultants consider building a facility near the North Toledo state prison as well as renovating the current facility or rebuilding on the same site.

That way, the two operations - the new jail and the state s Toledo Correctional Institution - could benefit from sharing costs in such areas as laundry, medical, and food services, she said.

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